Massachusetts legislator defends ANWR wilderness bill

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said people would not be prohibited from using snowmachines under his bill to make the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain an official wilderness area.

Markey was disputing a claim by Rep. Richard Pombo and Gov. Frank Murkowski at a hearing in Kaktovik in April that Markey's bill could block the kinds of mechanized travel that are allowed in Alaska's current wilderness areas.

Markey discussed the matter Thursday in a letter to Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee. Israel Klein, a spokesman for Markey, said the transcripts of the Kaktovik hearing show the bill was clearly mischaracterized as preventing snowmobile use by the residents of Kaktovik,'' according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Markey's letter laid out four arguments:

The bill calls for the coastal plain to be administered like the wilderness in the rest of ANWR, where snowmachines are allowed.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, through which Congress created many of Alaska's conservation areas in 1980, says any wilderness areas that are expanded must be managed just as the ones established under the act.

The subsistence section of ANILCA says snowmachines must be allowed in such areas.

The transportation section of ANILCA says snowmachines must be allowed in conservation areas for traditional activities.''

In short, nothing in (the bill) would mandate that the coastal plain wilderness be managed any differently than the rest of the wilderness in the Arctic refuge,'' Markey wrote.

But John Katz, Murkowski's representative in Washington, said Markey's proposed legislation is at best unclear. Outside Alaska, areas designated by Congress as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act cannot be entered with mechanized vehicles.

In the Alaska wilderness created in 1980, such vehicles are allowed for a variety of uses, though both the type of uses and the areas have been disputed in court.

Because Congressman Markey's bill does not clearly reference the Alaska wilderness exceptions in ANILCA, I think any one of those exceptions, whether for access or commercial use, would be in serious jeopardy,'' Katz said. If Congressman Markey's objective is truly to permit the access exceptions permitted by ANILCA, why doesn't he offer to amend his existing legislation to make that clear?''

Klein said Markey won't be doing that.

The bill doesn't need to be changed,'' Klein said. The misinterpretation of the bill needed to be corrected.''

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